Tag Archives: Media

File-sharing, artists and the egregious offenders

It has been a tumultuous few weeks in the Compatible World – a raging debate about file-sharing has got a lot of people very emotional.  It’s mostly been in the music world, but all sorts of creators and creatives in different sectors have been watching with breath held trying to see which way this argument goes. There is nothing like a threat of regulation and legislation to sharpen a debate. There is nothing like a recession, loss of jobs and incomes, to make it emotional. After all, file-sharing is at least ten years old now, but this has only served to amplify the arguments.

On the one side, the libertarian argument – on the other, the conservative view – there’s been little middle ground. On the one hand those that argue there is much promotional value to be had in file-sharing – on the other, those that argue it is totally destructive and leads to an inevitable decline in sales.

With regard to new business models – everyone argues that we need them – even the labels agree. But the conservative argument is that as long as file-sharing persists it hampers the launching of new products and therefore file-sharing must be suppressed.  The libertarians argue that file-sharing cannot be suppressed and that the new models need to be encouraged as quickly as possible and that the labels are preventing them by not licensing more innovative models.  But, even as one label tries to innovate, another holds back – afraid of cannibalising with a new model the only digital revenues they already have (iTunes).

The new proposal from Lord Peter Mandelson for the UK to adopt a policy of broadband account suspension to be applied to the heaviest sharers, the now famous “egregious offenders” has sparked the new row.  The Featured Artists Coalition voiced strong opposition to this and fuelled a heated internal argument inside the music industry.  Lily Allen piped up in a strong voice – unexpectedly putting the conservative argument and saying “it’s not alright” to file-share. As a result the labels got very excited and did everything they could to “help” her and a huge amount of  abuse came down on her head from the online community.

But Lily did speak out in a significant way. Her intervention highlighted the conflicted feelings of many musicians and artists. On the one hand they recognise the incredible potential and value of the net – on the other hand they can’t feel entirely comfortable knowing that their ability to make a living from their own creativity is being reduced by the actions of millions of people who consume without valuing their work – because they can.

So on Thursday night last week we gathered together at Air Studios in Hampstead, north west London, a group of about eighty recording artists – some well known – some more obscure – to try to explore the issues and where artists stood. Members from all sorts of  bands like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Blur, Travis, Keane, Marillion were there, Billy Bragg who is as impassioned and politically savvy as they come, David Arnold who writes the Bond music,  Mike Batt who is an artist and the vice-chairman of the BPI all sat there together – ready for a ding dong. In an upstairs room, with his ear to the wall, George Michael was getting reports of the proceedings. Annie Lennox had her digital representative relaying events by phone.  We sat in the round, in the studio’s cosy wood back-room with the old church stained-glass windows looking down on us, the paraphernalia of recording equipment shoved back to the walls  and a couple of microphones to give people something to hold on to when they talked.  About fifteen minutes or so after the discussion began, a timid and tearful Lily Allen came into the room, crouching behind the back row at first. She was encouraged forward and applauded for attending – and was quickly given a seat on the front row to take part in the debate which I had the dubious honour to be chairing. She was tearful, she was angry, she was foul-mouthed and she was eloquent. The whole debate didn’t entirely revolve around her, but she and Billy Bragg became the respective voices of the opposing positions.

The arguments swung back and forth. The conservative view is as strong among many artists as is the libertarian position. There was no particular rationale to which artists adopted which position and for an hour or so the debate simply swung back and forth. One guy from the Long Pigs, got very angry and walked out, saying something about how he  “couldn’t understand why you’re being so soft on them – they need to be told”.  Billy Bragg delivered an incredible, rowsing speech to huge applause about the need to be nurturing fans and the relationship that an artist has with them is the only one that counts.  As the clock reached towards nine pm, I tried to push the room towards a vote. I thought that perhaps while they wouldn’t get agreement on the key issue of suspending peoples’ accounts, maybe we could all agree on the long term educational, cultural change that was needed and that new models were now critically required, perhaps we could conclude by emphasising the positive stuff we do all share.

But then something remarkable happened. As I pushed them to close, they wanted to argue on and the energy in the room suddenly lifted. Someone suggested that perhaps not suspension but bandwidth slowing could be a solution. Perhaps the ability to use email and basic web-serving could be preserved but the high bandwidth needed to make file-sharing worthwhile could be reduced. The room leapt on this compromise with a speed and a degree of excitement that we hadn’t seen all evening. No matter that it would cost the ISPs more to do this than to cut people off. No matter that people could still file-share just more slowly. No matter that squeezing might require as much of an invasion of privacy as suspension – a compromise position was in the air – and everyone leapt on it.

I called for a show of hands and about sixty percent of them went up, including Lily’s and Billy’s in favour of bandwidth squeezing. A significant minority voted against – mostly because they were libertarian, but a few who strongly insisted that hanging and flogging was too good for file sharers. There was a feeling of elation. Euphoria was in the air. Never mind the fine detail, much more importantly,  the artist community had become united. Talking face to face, not through the distorting lenses of the media but in privacy with no reporters and no photographers in the room – the artists found common cause and we all celebrated that.

And so the meeting ended with a feverish capturing of the sentiment in a brief statement that was put out to the waiting media.  And, as the hour neared midnight, the crowd drifted away with a sense that something important, even historic had just happened; something greater than reaching a consensus on a view about what to do about file-sharing to give to the government. Everyone had the feeling that the power of the artists’ community could be more powerful in this story going forward and that together they could work out solutions that might actually satisfy everyone – and that they were capable of practical deal making – more effectively than some of the other participants in the debate.  Argue? of course they did! Compromise? Hell yeah! Who said tearful, emotional, angry artists – couldn’t also occasionally surprise themselves and act more like adults than the corporate grown ups could?


Quotes from CISAC Copyright Summit 2009, Washington DC

“The degradation of the quality image is the only thing I fear from the digital age.” (Frank Stella, artist)

Frank Stella

“How do you value consciousness?” (Frank Stella)

“Artists are lazy but they are capable of being mobilized. But they won’t organise around financial things but more about moral protests and causes.” (Frank Stella)

Paul williams

“In 1967, I turned up at A&M Music in a stolen car. I looked like a kid until you put me next to a real kid. Then I looked like a kid with a hangover.” (Paul Williams, songwriter)


“The Internet is like a supermarket shopping bag with all the things in it for free too.” (Milos Forman, film director)

Experimentation Time – Again

At the Digital Britian Summit last week, both content owners and telco network operators complained that consumer behaviour is killing their business and making it more and more difficult to make money. “We’re right and the consumers are wrong”, they say. What’s wrong with this picture? Willing seller, willing buyer is a concept used in law, as far as I understand it (which may not be far),  to try and ensure notions of fairness in trading and in contracts. What seems to be happening today is that the buyers are willing because the service looks great – content in the clear that you can move around and do loads of things with, bandwidth that costs a fixed fee but I can use as much or as little as I like. Seems like a good offer – only one problem – the companies involved seem less and less willing to offer their products and services that way because they can’t make money. Well that would be their problem then wouldn’t it?

So everyone wants new models – and there are no silver bullets.

Since the dawn of the web back in 1993, we have been experimenting. We have all been trying to figure out new models. And our learning has been evolving quite slowly. It’s not that surprising perhaps because plenty of those who appear to be leading the charge to help innovation are actually just busy turning the investment risks of others into revenue streams for themselves. Since new models for music have been largely dependent upon unlocking the coffers of major content holders, it’s hardly surprising that the price of a key has remained high. It’s a great model for them. Appear to encourage innovation and experimentation, drain the resources of those who try and make minimal investments of your own but only into things that you think you can control. The old command and control mentality of music moguls is live and well and making money from the internet – just in a hurry up and slow down kind of a way.

We have all struggled to get our heads around business models, ideas or solutions that go beyond mere per unit transactions or advertising revenues. And as the recession has taken hold and ad spend has declined,  the solution for some has been to throw up their hands and say:  “blanket license, flat rate charging for access to music set against pro-rata payments to rights owners” – is  the only solution. Others have been quick to query the nominal levels of revenue that would flow from this kind of solution and therefore how small the music industry would become and how little would be left to “invest” in artists. The flat rate or Access to Music folk respond by saying, ah but the flat rate is only the beginning, on top of that there are lots of value added services to be created that would make up more than the difference and return the industry to a new and golden age – made glorious by my old mate Pete Jenner. He is the lion at the heart of this argument and  has been vociferous in promoting in a style that only he can get away with. Which is basically tell everyone they’re up the creek without a paddle and that his solution is the only that will work. And tell everyone the same thing whether they care to listen or not.

I’m only partly in agreement with Pete. I do think that the idea of a flat rate is compelling and could be made to work within walled gardens of networks, but I don’t think it’s the only solution and I think it may be problematic because of the kind of comprehensive coverage it requires. But the key thing about it is that no one has seen it in action. Pete was trying to make it happen on the Isle of Man – obscure but possible. Now these folk appear a little tainted by their unfashionable tax-haven status. Away on the campuses of American universities, another old friend, the indominatable Mr Jim Griffin is hammering away with his Warner Music Group sponsored effort called Choruss which is an effort to bring the flat rate idea to reality in various forms in the ivy-clad self-contained networks of US colleges.

Experimentation around these kinds of idea is crucially important and we need it now. But there are two gating items: one is the availability of the content itself and the other is a level of transparency and intelligence in the networks themselves. If we could envisage an internet in which the free movement of content aorund networks was encouraged because the more it moved and the more it was consumed the more value it created, we could abandon expensive and fruitless anti-piracy efforts, encourage new and interactive modes of music consumption and stop sueing people who have proved themselves to be the best distributors in the world. Instead of worrying about how to compete with free, we could start to derive value from the patterns of sharing, the clustering of content, the relationships between different groups of content,  the geographic spread of content, the different platforms upon which it was most consumed, etc. In other words,  a whole a battery of new and so far invisible ways in which value could be created from content which are hard to envisage today and even more difficult to place a value on.

And they need to be prepared to remove some of the barriers that their current models require in order to discover what the future might look like.  It’s not reasonable to expect start up companies or the (un)venture community to subsidise that effort when the power is in the hands of the incumbents.The only way to find out is to try some experiments at real scale with real consumers and real content. We need to create the conditions in which the content could be made available for pilot projects that would benefit both the content owners and the network operators. Over in the world of teleco’s, the network operators and wholesalers are trying to figure out how to build next generation networks. The Digital Britain report and debate has been full of the breathless excitement at the benefits that higher speed access will create.

My view is that we need smarter pipes not just faster ones. We need to be thinking about the software environments that will be at play on next generation networks that can be much more intimately bound up with the behaviour of content on the networks.

I believe that it’s time for the major record and film companies to participate in some real field trials with some real technology partners, declare a Royalties Amnesty for these trials and explore some radical new ways to create revenues and profits in conjunction with the network operators. And from their side, for the purposes of these trials, the network operators need to be allowed by law to give up their “mere conduit” exoneration of liability over knowledge of the content on their networks – and take the opposite approach and become actively involved in sharing ways of monetising that knowledge. Of course, we have to be very careful of Phorm-like invasions of privacy. The protection of personal privacy is paramount as we move forward with these kinds of ideas and the levels of permission that consumers must be offered needs to become more sophisticated.

Around the UK right now, there are a nine or ten “next generation access trials” taking place for high speed networks – perfect places for pilot schemes of this kind to be run – safely self-contained, but large enough to produce meaningful results.

Quotes from TED 2009

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished – that is the beginning.”

Juan Enriquez quoting Louis L’Amour

“Is it our machines or is it us that are wired for war?”

P W Singer on military robots

“Oh how’s your economy falling apart? Oh Ok, that a little different from how mine is!”

Bill Gates reporting on conversations this year at Davos

“English was the language of colonists but it has become the language of entrepreneurship.”

Nandan Nilekani on India growth

“Leaders are heretics not sleepwalkers.”

Seth Godin on creating tribes

“Follow the speed of the animals to understand how they live.”

Jacques Perrin on the making of his movie Oceans

“All of us has the exact same percentage of salt in our blood as does the water in the ocean. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”

Jacques Perrin quoting JFK

“It’s too late to be pessimistic – we are all part of the solution.”

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – photographer and film-maker

“Seeing with the brain is often called imagination.”

Oliver Sacks

“We have built the Allo Sphere – a three story high sphere in a building – visualisation as virtual reality.”

Joann KucheraMorin – University of Santa Barbara

“All seagulls look as if they’re called Emma.”

Christian Morgenstern quoted by Golan Levin

“To those who have to go without two meals a day, God can only appear as bread.”

Mahatma Ghandi quoted by Louise Fresco

“American poet, Ruth Stone, perceived her poems as storms rolling across the landscape towards her and if she caught one she could write it down. But if she missed it, it would barrel on through the landscape until it found another poet who could capture it.”

Elizabeth Gilbert – novelist

“It is now possible to conceive a child who is to be borne two hundred years from now.”

Juan Enriquez

“Between stability and instability, in every public space, there is a desire to communicate something that is memorable.”

Daniel Libeskind

“It is important to remember that we are not at the pinnacle of our own evolution.”

Jill Tarter

“This is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and men’s devices are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life…and will soon learn to afford a standard higher still. We were not previously deceived. But to-day we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time—perhaps for a long time.”

John Maynard Keynes from his essay The Big Slump, 1930 quoted at TED by Chris Anderson.

“Larger markets increase the incentive to produce new ideas.”

Nate Silver – economist

“When people say that’s impossible, they’re confused because by impossible they simply mean they don’t know to do that yet.”

Bruce Buenode Mesquita

“Wisdom is moral jazz.”

Barry Schwartz

“We must not just ask is it profitable, we must also ask is it right?”

Barak Obama quoted by Barry Schwartz

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Thomas Jefferson quoted by Liz Coleman